The Diet Detective: Weight Loss Q&A

I've heard a lot about the buddy system – losing more weight if you are doing it with another person. I have one friend I could ask, but she's focused on the quick fix. How important is it to have a buddy?

Yes, having a buddy can really help. There have been hundreds of studies showing that social support helps you to change behavior and empowers you to succeed. There's even been a study from Ohio State University showing that social support is so powerful for mice that it can help minimize the physical damage to the brain caused by a heart attack.

Having a buddy helps you lose weight in many ways. Here are a few:

Provides a method of sharing of information: For instance, a new healthy recipe, an iPhone app with a pedometer and calorie counter, the best walking routes, a fun dance class. It also helps with problem solving. Perhaps your buddy "has been through it before" and can share the wisdom of his/her positive and negative experiences.

Emotional sharing: A shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen.

Inspiration, courage and coaching: Maybe you're having trouble getting out and walking, or maybe you need someone to talk to about an upcoming party that will be filled with your biggest food triggers.

Recent research has demonstrated that social networks featuring many distant connections (e.g., "You're trying to lose weight and are married -- so am I – so let's team up.") produce the quickest change. But a new study by researchers at MIT Sloan School of Management reached a different conclusion: Individuals are more likely to acquire new "health practices" while creating networks with people they already know well.

Are there any mind tricks to avoid those delicious cookies I see for sale every morning in the lobby in my office building?

Make sure you're well fed when you pass through that lobby. Eat breakfast -- a bowl of low-calorie cereal and skim milk, for example. For a few other suggestions see breakfast-in-5-minutes.aspx. Next, have a strong reason for wanting to lose weight. You need to know why you should pass up that cookie. Is it because you want to be in shape for bathing suit season? Or do you want to feel healthy again? Recent research reported in the Journal of Consumer Research found: "When people focus on the concrete aspects of how they want to achieve goals, they become more closed-minded and less likely to take advantage of opportunities that fall outside their plans. In contrast, people who focus on the why are more likely to consider out-of-plan opportunities to achieve their goals." The researchers concluded: "Planning is more effective when people think abstractly, keep an open mind, and remind themselves of why they want to achieve a goal." To figure out your reason why, see

There is also recent research from McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin showing that your ability to resist that tempting cookie depends on how big a threat you perceive it to be. In the study, participants were asked to estimate the calories in a cookie. Those with strong dieting goals construed it to have more calories than it really did, and to be more damaging to their weight-loss goals. The message? If you have a real goal and desire, and create resistance skills (not willpower, see: ), you should be able to pass on the cookie. Try to stay occupied when you're crossing the lobby. For instance, listen to music or talk on the phone (good time for a quick catch-up call with an old friend). Or see if you could use another entrance, and avoid the lobby altogether.

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